The undersigned independent Egyptian human rights organizations express our consternation over U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to release $195 million in suspended military aid to Egypt. Pompeo’s predecessor Rex Tillerson had withheld these funds, in part over human rights concerns. Secretary Pompeo has also informed Congress that he will invoke a national security waiver to avoid human rights conditions attached by Congress to a further $195 million of military assistance. He is yet to voice any criticism of human rights conditions in Egypt.
The US administration had withheld military aid to press the Egyptian government to reform or rescind its draconian new NGO law and overturn the 2013 conviction, under Case 173 of 2011, of employees working for human rights and democracy promotion organizations. The 43 convicted include 17 American citizens as well as Egyptian employees of American organizations.
The human rights concerns specified by Tillerson have not been resolved; on the contrary, the human rights situation in Egypt has worsened. In the presidential election held earlier this year, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi eliminated all his credible opponents through intimidation and imprisonment, marking a serious deterioration in Egypt’s electoral politics. This sham election was followed by calls to amend Egypt’s constitution from security-affiliated writers and from members of parliament, opening the door for Sisi to become president for life.
While continuing its prosecution and harassment of independent human rights activists, and ongoing investigations in Case 173 against Egyptian NGOs, the government has extended its crackdown on peaceful criticism with a new wave of arrests of bloggers and journalists, which appears designed to silence dissent and independent examination of national issues and government policy. A new media law threatened further restrictions on the already tightly controlled freedom of expression. We fear that this will lead to further attacks on peaceful dissent that will shake the foundations of the very fragile stability in Egypt.
Withholding military aid had sent a significant message of concern over Egypt’s human rights situation, slowing the crackdown on Egyptian NGOs and compelling Sisi to hold a presidential election instead of simply changing the constitution. We believe Pompeo’s decisions give the Egyptian government under President Sisi a green light to continue deepening its authoritarian path. For example, immediately after Pompeo’s first decision to lift the hold on military aid, 75 people were sentenced to death in a mass trial lacking in due process protections.
While we decry Secretary Pompeo’s indifference to worsening human rights conditions in Egypt, we recognize and appreciate many other sectors within U.S. society who continue to urge the U.S. government to take a strong stand in favor of human rights, and in support of independent human rights activists. These include leading members of congress from both parties, recognizing especially the leadership of the late Senator John McCain, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Patrick Leahy, who have supported increased human rights conditionality on foreign military assistance to Egypt.
In addition, representatives from civil society, including the Working Group on Egypt, Human Rights Watch, the Project on Middle East Democracy and Human Rights First have been consistent voices for human rights and democratic reform since before the 2011 Revolution. Leading U.S. media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal continue to report accurately and critically on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. Their valuable contributions to human rights in Egypt echoes the support given to movements for human rights and freedom around the world by U.S. civil society over many decades. In this regard, we recall support from the people of the United States for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, to struggles against dictatorship in South and Central America and more recently popular opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and to the violations of human rights carried out by the U.S. government after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
While we oppose the destructive policy of the current U.S. administration towards human rights in Egypt, we look forward to continued support from U.S. civil society and public opinion and to effective collective action to end the escalating human rights crisis in Egypt, and to restore the basic rights, freedom and dignity of the Egyptian people.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Committee for Justice
- Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
- Egyptian Front for Rights and Freedoms
- Freedom initiative